Julieta

by Roger Walker-Dack

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday December 23, 2016

'Julieta'
'Julieta'  

For his latest movie -- his 20th -- Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar has done a 360 degree turn from his last film, the outrageously camp farce "I'm So Excited," and eschewed comedy completely to make one of his excellent signature female-centric melodramas.

"Julieta" is loosely based on three short stories from the Canadian Pultizer-Prize writer Janet Munro, and is the tale of a middle-aged woman who decides to confront her life, about which she had been in denial. In this way, she will finally be able to deal with the events leading up to her only daughter choosing to abandon her.

Almodovar begins the story with present-day Julieta (Emma Suárez) as she is about to leave Madrid to start a new chapter in her life in Portugal with her partner Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). However, she bumps into Bea (Michelle Jenner), who had been her daughter Antía's best friend when they were both teenagers. When Bea shares that she has recently seen Antía, and that she is the happy mother of three children, Julieta immediately decides to ditch Lorenzo and their plans, and stay in Madrid just in case.

Now ensconced in an apartment in the same building where she and Antía (Blanca Parés) used to live, a distraught Julieta starts a journal in which she writes down a record of her life to date, ostensibly in the form of a letter to her absent daughter, but it also conveniently serves as the narrative for the movie. The film flashes back to Julieta as a very young substitute classics teacher (now played by a spiky-haired Adriana Ugarte), who is thrown together with a handsome fisherman named Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a traumatic train journey. The encounter ends up them with making out.

Fast forward a few months: As she is about to finish her temporary teaching assignment, Julieta gets a note out of the blue from Xoan reminiscing about their night of passion, which she interprets as invitation to go visit him in his home overlooking the sea. In true Almodovar fashion she arrives the day after the funeral of Xoan's wife, who had been in a coma for five years; she is met by the very frosty housekeeper, Marian (Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma), who is happy to volunteer the fact that Xoan is staying the night with his mistress Ana (Inma Cuesta).

Nevertheless, Julieta stays. When Xoan arrives home they start off from where had they last finished, and soon after the birth of Antía, they start to play happy families. It all goes swimmingly for some years, until Antía is a teenager, and then a restless Julieta wants to go back to teaching. She fires Marian and even confronts Xoan about his on/off relationship with Ana; in a fit of pique he goes out fishing, even though there is a major storm brewing.

When tragedy follows, a distraught Julieta allows Antía, now a forceful teenager besotted with her very close friend Bea, to move them both to Madrid and start a new life. Everything very slowly fits into place, and eventually Julieta shakes off her grief-induced depression, finding a new kind of happiness. That, however, is shattered when college-age Antía goes off for a three-month retreat. She never comes back -- and she cuts off all contact with Julieta.

Almodovar keeps us in suspense for most of this multi-layered story, feeding facts to Julieta (and us) piecemeal. Although this movie may not be as superb as some of his masterpieces, such as "Talk To Her" and "All About My Mother," it is nevertheless a compelling melodrama that will be welcomed with open arms by his legions of faithful fans. It is also so great seeing him back in a genre that he excels at with such style, and completely like no other filmmaker.

Usually known for casting his lead actors from a coterie of regulars, this time Almodovar breaks with his tradition and selects Ugarte and Suárez to respectively play the young and more mature Julieta, and although they both add totally different nuances to their superb performances.

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Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.